Part V: Russia knocking at the door
Written by: Val Stutz, Edited by: Wilmer Rojas. Quotes in this series have been edited for readability and concision.
“The third day was probably the scariest,” Andy told us, “The Russians pushed further into the city. I don't know exactly how they got there, whether it was with armored trucks or by some other means, but they were trying to get into apartment buildings.”
On the third day of the invasion, the intensity of Russian attacks began to increase, and the presence of Russian troops came disturbingly close to the civilians of Kharkiv. During this time, Andy started to hear unsettling reports of Russian troops who had slipped through the Ukrainians’ perimeter of defense and disguised themselves as Ukrainian police. Their objectives were unclear, but it was evident that these troops posed a threat to civilians.
“In Alekseevka, there is footage of Russians trying to get into apartment buildings dressed as Ukrainian border guards, but it was clear they weren’t, given the fact that they were carrying Russian weapons. That's very similar to what we saw. Luckily, they did not get into our building. The door was locked. There were also warnings going out all over saying, ‘Don't let anybody in the building. Don't open the door.’ I can only assume they wanted to take up sniper positions or they wanted to occupy the building in order to hide from the Ukrainians or something like that. I don't know what they were doing, but after that, we never saw them again.”
Andy shared a video taken from one of the apartment buildings in the Alekseevka district of Kharkiv, where Russian troops posing as Ukrainian police officers had been active.
The security footage shows four men in black uniforms, each armed with Russian AKM assault rifles, entering the apartment corridor. The point man of the group is seen knocking aggressively on the apartment door closest to the camera. They communicate in clear Russian when one of the armed men asks if they should move ahead, while one of the men in the rear can be seen answering his phone.
The point man grows impatient as the door remains shut, and knocks harder, but to no avail. He eventually walks back, turning down another hall near the entrance where they came in, and one of his cohorts stands by the apartment door closest to the camera. After a few moments, the second man knocks on the door, hoping to get an answer. Though it cannot be determined from the footage what these men are after, it is clear that this apartment room is of significant interest to them.
After an unsuccessful attempt by the second man to get into the apartment, he stands idly by until suddenly something off-camera catches his attention. He immediately flips off the safety on his AKM assault rifle and racks the charging handle, shouting “Police! Stay where you are!” before moving off-camera. One of the other men can be heard saying “It’s a man, young,” and the second man says “Police, open up!”, presumably attempting to get into one of the neighboring apartment rooms.
“They went back to the tactic of, ‘Let's bomb stuff,’” said Andy, “And the Ukrainians did a really good job of holding them back. Kharkiv has two main roads that come into the city and one road that circles around it. From what I understand, that was mainly where the battles were taking place. From where we were, you could feel the ground shaking from the fighting. Sometimes the building would shake.
My building never got hit. But we did have a family that came to stay with us after their building was hit. They were eventually able to escape the city.
I spent most of my time inside. It was too dangerous on the street. We saw images of people being killed trying to get water and provisions. If I went out I wouldn’t go farther than the grocery store. And I wouldn’t go out onto main streets. I had to go the back way.
The family that came to stay with us had a little girl who was about seven years old. She was very pleasant to be around. She was very, very bored, what with being stuck in the house all day. I did my best to keep her occupied. And she was very interested in the fact that I was studying Russian. So she would look at my books and try to correct my mistakes. That was a way to keep her busy.”
Reflecting on his feelings in those first days, Andy said, “Of course I was scared. But, I felt, I don't know… Personally, I felt a lot of anger. I thought, ‘Get the fuck out. What are you guys doing here?’”
Andy went on to say, “I understand that this is one person really, Vladimir Putin. No one wants this, especially the younger generation. No one is buying the propaganda being thrown out, especially in Belgorod.” That statement, made three weeks ago, reflected a hope many of us had; it is a hope that has faded in recent weeks.
It seems that Russia has replaced the former USSR’s iron curtain with a more modern stainless steel one. Old tactics of misinformation, questionable polling, and suppression of political dissent from the USSR remain the same in today’s Russia. While there has been a great deal of reporting on Putin’s high polling numbers, a number of formerly high level, now exiled Russian oligarchs, as well as political dissidents have stated that those numbers cannot really be trusted and that Putin does not have the support he purports to have. The fact of the matter is, it is not so cut and dry as Putin has support and Putin doesn’t have support.
Accurate numbers are never going to come out of Russia concerning support for Putin and the war. There are assuredly Russians who do not support the war, but there is also an undeniable, and arguably large, stronghold of Russian citizens that strongly support Putin and the invasion of Ukraine, and furthermore do not believe the reports of war crime atrocities in Ukraine coming to light. This latter realization has gone on to sever families, friendships, and many hopes for a peaceful resolution to an invasion that should have never happened in the first place.
Putin has drawn an unfortunate line in the sand that has split the world into pro-Russia and pro-West sides. How that will play out in the coming days and weeks is impossible to say.
Coming next - Part VI: 15 Days at War